Martin Chuzzlewit

by Charles Dickens

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*Wiltshire. District in southern England in which Mr. Pecksniff runs an architectural school out of his home in an unnamed village near Salisbury. From this base, Pecksniff plots to secure the money from his aging cousin old Martin Chuzzlewit, ultimately reducing him from house-guest to helpless dependent. When old Chuzzlewit’s repentant grandson, young Martin, poses a threat to Pecksniff’s power, Pecksniff smugly dismisses the young man from his home, secure in his power over the grandfather. Pecksniff also invites old Martin’s companion, Mary Graham, planning to take advantage of her proximity to seduce her into marrying him.

Apprentices John Westlock, young Martin, and Tom Pinch, all victims of Pecksniff’s hypocrisy, leave Pecksniff’s architectural school. Finally, this home also provides staged scenes of family harmony when needed, but when convenient, both daughters are sent from the family hearth, Mercy to wed the despicable Jonas Chuzzlewit and Charity to fend for herself in London at Todgers’s boardinghouse.

Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon. Inn in Wiltshire where old Martin is first introduced, ill and pursued by an expectant horde of scavenging relatives. Mrs. Lupin, the model landlady is especially welcoming to young Martin and Mark Tapley when they return from their disastrous trip to America. At her fireside, they hear of Pecksniff’s latest machinations. The Blue Dragon is also the place where Tigg Montague and Jonas Chuzzlewit invite Pecksniff to invest in the Anglo-Bengalee Loan Company, which leads to disastrous consequences for all three.

Village church

Village church. Church in which the saintly Tom Pinch plays the organ and first sees Mary Graham as she quietly listens to his music. One of the novel’s comic scenes later takes place here when Tom and Mary converse seriously about their concerns, and Pecksniff despicably eavesdrops, popping up and down behind a pew like the puppet Punch.

*United States

*United States. Indignant at his grandfather’s rejection of his wish to marry Mary Graham, young Martin goes to America hoping to make an easy fortune so he can return to England and claim Mary. However, he finds the country a nation of bores and boors. After Martin and his faithful assistant, Mark Tapley, arrive in New York City, they encounter snobbery, hypocrisy, and rudeness. Through young Martin, Dickens takes aim at American English, ignorant politicians, the press, and American complacency about the still-legal institution of slavery.

Dickens evidently decided to send his hero to North America because readership of his serial novels was falling, and he hoped these adventures would spur his readers’ interest.


Eden. Fraudulent land-development in New York in which young Martin and Mark Tapley buy shares. On their arrival, they find only rude cabins in a swamp. Eden has malnourished children, dying parents, decomposing slime, and fatal maladies. Martin falls ill with fever, and when he recovers, Mark becomes sick. While he nurses his friend, Martin ponders the faults of his own character and the true reasons for the failure of his hopes. At Eden, Martin is transformed: “So low had Eden brought him down. So high had Eden raised him up.” After a nightmarish year, Martin and Mark board ship and return to England.


Todgers’s. Boardinghouse for commercial gentlemen in the heart of London to which Pecksniff and his daughters make their way, as through a maze, groping, distracted, backtracking. “Surely there never was in any other borough, city, or hamlet in the world such a singular sort of place as Todgers’s.” Part gritty reality, part imaginative fantasy, Todgers’s is a stage for Charity’s and Mercy’s flirtations, for their father’s more senior-style coquetry, and for Pecksniff to tighten his grip on...

(This entire section contains 964 words.)

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the rich old man.

Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company

Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company. The British parallel to the American Eden land speculation scam; it appears overnight, “grown up,” and running at a great pace, resplendent in stucco and plate glass. Everything is new, substantial, and expensive, designed to impress the visitor with its security, solidity, and profitability. This facade, plus the home of the director, Tigg Montague, in London’s St. James Square, all serve to dupe the public. Jonas Chuzzlewit ungraciously approaches, suspicious of the fine exterior, but through Tigg’s blackmail and pressure, he not only invests his money but is forced to promise to deliver Pecksniff as another investor.


*Islington. District of London in which Tom Pinch settles with his sister Ruth after he exposes Pecksniff and leaves Wiltshire. They choose Islington after having heard no more about it than it is said to be “merry.” Their modest triangular parlor witnesses many innocent and happy scenes as Ruth and John Westlock fall in love, and also poignant scenes, as Tom watches the happiness of young Martin and Mary Graham.


Library. Office near Temple Gate on London’s Fleet Street in which Tom Pinch works for an unspecific employer. There, in a dusty, lumber-filled upper flat, he cleans and orders books and organizes papers, faithfully and quietly earning his wages until he discovers that his employer is old Martin Chuzzlewit, now liberated from Pecksniff’s manipulation and shedding his false dementia. In a highly orchestrated denouement, old Martin summons characters to this library, one by one, to offer blessings and mete out justice. Tom is praised and honored for his steadfast goodness and loyalty. Ruth Pinch is joyously joined to John Westlock, who has been handling arrangements in old Martin’s name. Mark Tapley is to wed Mrs. Lupin of the Blue Boar. Young Martin is forgiven, embraced, and united with Mary Graham. After a brief and ineffectual chastisement of Sairy Gamp’s excesses, Martin announces judgment on Pecksniff, revealing the latter’s hypocrisy and sending him away penniless.


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Adrian, Arthur A. “The Heir of My Bringing-Up.” In Dickens and the Parent-Child Relationship. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984. Good study of the parent-child relationship in Martin Chuzzlewit, using the example of Anthony and Jonas Chuzzlewit. Adrian argues that the novel explores the harm done by parents in shaping their children’s futures.

Gilmour, Robin. The Novel in the Victorian Age: A Modern Introduction. London: Edward Arnold, 1986. A good discussion of Martin Chuzzlewit, which views it as a transitional novel in Dickens’ oeuvre, possessing both the strengths and the weaknesses of his earlier novels at the same time that it anticipates the more complex social vision of his later novels.

Lougy, Robert E. “Martin Chuzzlewit”: An Annotated Bibliography. Garland Dickens Bibliographies 6. New York: Garland, 1990. An excellent listing of many critical works on the novel, along with reviews by Dickens’ contemporaries and a listing of stage and film adaptations. The annotations are invaluable for seeking out further sources.

Miller, J. Hillis. “Martin Chuzzlewit.” In Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958. One of the most important essays on the novel. Miller argues that the central problem facing the characters in Martin Chuzzlewit is “how to achieve an authentic self, a self which, while resting solidly on something outside of itself, does not simply submit to a definition imposed from without.”

Monod, Sylvere. “Martin Chuzzlewit.” London: Allen and Unwin, 1985. An excellent introduction to the novel, with detailed exploration of its sources and Dickens’ experience in writing it. Includes a detailed bibliography.


Critical Essays